Why I Keep Livestock Guardian Dogs {aka dog mama bragging}
The Family Dog

Why I Keep Livestock Guardian Dogs {aka dog mama bragging}

Can we all just ignore the fact that I have hardly written a post since last Christmas?

Thank you.

Because I need a moment to brag here. A proud dog mama moment.

Most dog moms I know have them, and I am always happy to see a dog doing great. No matter who you or where you live I will always want to hear about your dog. When I go to other people’s houses I pay more attention to the dog than the person. It’s just a fact of life.

So here’s my dog mama moment.

This summer we lost a total of 16 chickens – 11 of those were to a fox. ELEVEN. Thats a lot of eggs we lost. At first it was just the free ranging birds that were disappearing, so all chickens were grounded to their run only. No adventures.

Things quieted down a bit, until I came outside one morning to find the fox standing in my chicken run with its head in the coop door. I tore after it yelling and screaming like a wild woman. I was in my pyjamas and had no shoes on. My farm dog, Bowser, came with me as we ran through the forest, braving ticks to chase the monster far away.

The next step was to move our livestock guardian dog, Hayley, from our goat pen to the chicken pen. Sorry goats, y’all gotta keep the coyotes away yourself. Our chicken run is massive, allowing for ample space for all 50-some odd chickens plus Hayley. It weaves through grassy field, thick brush, and even a bit into the forest.

The following morning I sat on the back porch, which gives full view of the chicken run, and waited. Sure enough along came the fox – let me just comment here a gorgeous fox. Stunning red, bushy tail, and very tall. Like a giant of a fox, one that a fur collector would treasure. Ok, let’s move on.

What happened next happened in extreme slow motion.

Hayley was asleep on the other side of the run under a big tree. The fox creeped silently to the edge of the fence and starting pushing it’s way under. In alarm I jolted up from the porch and started galloping towards the chicken coop, but was stopped short in fear when I heard this….roar. I don’t know how else to explain it – it was downright terrifying and I thought for sure there was a friggin lion in the woods. My breath caught, I literally halted, my heels digging into the dirt and wondered for a brief moment if I should turn and run for the gun….you know the big one, for bears. As my mind was calculating all this in nanoseconds, I suddenly noticed the flash of white that was barrelling towards the fox and that’s when it dawned on me that the terrfiying roar was coming from Hayley!

Her hair was up making her look twice as big as she is (and she big!) and combined with this hellish noise I couldn’t believe that that creature was my loving dog. The fox, who was half way under the fence at this point, suddenly realized this wasn’t such a good idea. It started going in reverse trying desperately to get its head out of the fence before Hayley closed the distance. It did, right as she hit the fence – all 120 pounds of her slamming into the fence at morph speed. The fox disappeared into the brush and she paced the fence line barking, letting it know not to come back. That’s about the time I realized I was weeping. Big fat ol’tears rolling down my cheeks. I’ve never been so proud.

She noticed me then, and came prancing over to the gate, tail wagging, big smile on her face. The look she always gives me. The devil creature completely gone. I wrapped my arms around her giant neck and laid my head on her back. She’s amazing, you guys.

We brought Hayley home two years ago, when a Fisher was devastating our chicken flock. We were unable to get so much as a glimpse of the thing, but the killing had become a game. It stalked us constantly, and the moment we turned our back – even for just a second, a hen was dead. Head bitten clean off, everything just laying there. It didn’t even eat the bird, just killed for fun. Our chickens were locked in the coop constantly (something I never want to do), when they were out we had to be in the yard with them, and we started resorting to using our farm dog, Bowser, to guard them as well. Something he did with pleasure, but he wasn’t a long term solution. We had a professional trapper come in and put traps around our property, but we never caught anything.
(If you want to read more about that time check out this post and this post.)

Training a livestock guardian is rewarding but long. And somedays just plain draining. You kind of want to shake them and say “why you no get this?!” After many mishaps, returns to square one, moments of glory followed by moments of stupidity, and many days of “this dog is not worth it”, it will one day lead to the day when this goofy, giant, ball of hair will turn into a devil dog chasing off a predator. And that day makes everything worth it.

We’re in the thick of puppy training yet again here on the farm. We brought home another puppy in September, to work with Hayley. Mathias (Math-I-as) is 6 months old now and well into his teenager attitude already. Every once and while though he displays moments of greatness. That’s the kind of cool thing about puppy training, you get glimpses of the adult they’re going to become. And oh lardy, Mathias is going to be great. Dan and I have already said that he is going to be better than Hayley. My wonderful heart of gold Hayley, who I can’t imagine my life without, is the best dog I’ve ever owned, but Mathias, with all his temper-tantrums, not listening behaviour, and downright headstrong attitude, has moments of sheer glory. He’s serious, he watches like a hawk, he likes to perch up high on something and watch the surrounding area. These days he sits up on top of the hay bale in the feeder (I have no idea how he gets up there) and watches the forest and surrounding fields. He’s brave and has no issue engaging.

Hayley’s soft temperament and easy going nature has made her the best chicken guardian. She isn’t phased by their silly antics, flapping, and running. They proved to be too much temptation for Mathias, even when he was tethered, so he was moved into the goat pen, and when he tried to be to rough with my yearlings, he was put with the heifers – who have a sheer dislike for K9s and keep him in his place. He will be a fantastic goat guardian one day, he doesn’t let them push him around the way soft hearted Hayley did.

Livestock guardian dogs are incredible creatures. When they’re mature and trained they are irreplaceable. I could not farm without them. I don’t know how we limped on before we had them. There is never any worry when we’re gone from the farm because Hayley and Mathias are watching, and I can’t think of any better peace of mind than that.

Thank you for indulging my dog bragging needs. You may go about the rest of your day now.

And amen.

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